100 marks of a bad designer
Red flags to look for when conducting design portfolio reviews
In the design industry, distinguishing a stellar designer from an ineffective one can be a daunting task, especially when reviewing portfolios. Every designer has a unique approach, but certain consistent red flags might indicate potential challenges in their methods or understanding of design principles. This comprehensive list dives deep into 100 marks of an ineffective designer. From lack of empathy to resistance to feedback, over-reliance on trends, and neglect of people-centric design, we'll explore the subtle and not-so-subtle signs that might raise concerns during a portfolio review. Whether you're a hiring manager, a mentor, or a designer seeking self-improvement, this article aims to illuminate areas of potential growth and pitfalls to avoid. Dive in to ensure you're equipped with the knowledge to make informed decisions and drive excellence in design.
I published "100 Marks of a Bad Designer: Red Flags to Look for When Conducting Design Portfolio Reviews" to establish clear benchmarks for excellence within our design community.
This isn't merely about identifying shortcomings but setting gold standards for design. I hope it will serve as an educational tool, bridging the gap between designers and non-designers, ensuring we all speak the same language when it comes to quality. By highlighting some of these pitfalls, I hope to foster a culture of continuous learning, nurturing talent, and ensuring that design outputs consistently resonate with the people we design for.
🚩 Lack of empathy for people: A designer's role is to serve people. If they fail to understand or empathize with people’s needs, they risk creating designs that are aesthetically pleasing but functionally ineffective. Empathy helps in predicting people's reactions, needs, and potential problems they might face.
🚩 Resistance to feedback: Every designer, regardless of experience, benefits from external perspectives. Feedback is a tool for growth. Being defensive or resistant to it can stagnate a designer's development and limit the potential of their designs.
🚩 Over-reliance on trends: While trends offer fresh inspirations, they shouldn't be the sole foundation of a design. Relying too heavily on them can result in designs that lack originality or quickly become outdated.
🚩 Inconsistency in designs: Consistency offers predictability, which is key for producing good experiences for people. Inconsistent designs can confuse people, leading to decreased usability and a diluted brand message.
🚩 Inattention to detail: Details matter, whether it's alignment, typography, or color choices. Small oversights can lead to larger usability issues or give an impression of unprofessionalism.
🚩 Poor communication skills: Design is a collaborative effort, often involving stakeholders, developers, and other team members. A designer's inability to clearly communicate their ideas or rationales can lead to misalignments and hinder the collaborative process.
🚩 Unwillingness to learn and adapt: The design world is ever-evolving. A designer who doesn't continuously update their skills or adapt to new tools and techniques risks becoming obsolete.
🚩 Not considering the broader context: Good design fits seamlessly into a broader context, whether it's the technical constraints of a platform, a company's business goals, or the cultural background of a target audience.
🚩 Prioritizing aesthetics over functionality: While aesthetics are important, functionality is paramount. A beautiful design that doesn't meet people’s needs or business objectives is ultimately ineffective.
🚩 Ignoring people-first design principles: People should be at the heart of every design decision. Ignoring people’s needs, feedback, or testing can lead to designs that are out of touch with the target audience.
🚩 Overcomplicating solutions: Effective design often follows the principle of simplicity. Overdesigning or adding unnecessary elements can detract from the main objectives and confuse people.
🚩 Neglecting accessibility needs: Accessibility is a fundamental design principle. Ignoring it can exclude a significant portion of users and can also have legal implications.
🚩 Inability to justify design choices: Every design choice should have a rationale. Designers who can't articulate the reasoning behind their decisions can struggle to gain stakeholder buy-in or collaborate effectively with teams.
🚩 Not staying updated with industry standards: Industry standards evolve based on collective wisdom and changing technologies. Not staying updated can result in designs that feel outdated or don't leverage current best practices.
🚩 Avoiding collaboration with other team members: Design is rarely a solitary endeavor. Avoiding collaboration can limit the diversity of input into a design and reduce its effectiveness.
🚩 Not setting clear design objectives: Without clear objectives, a design can lack direction. This can result in designs that are unfocused or don't meet the intended goals.
🚩 Ignoring data and people’s feedback: Data and feedback offer valuable insights into people’s behavior and preferences. Ignoring these can lead to designs based on assumptions rather than real-world evidence.
🚩 Lack of problem-solving skills: Design is about solving problems, whether they're people’s needs, business objectives, or technical constraints. A lack of problem-solving skills can result in designs that don't effectively address these challenges.
🚩 Producing generic and unoriginal designs: While inspiration can come from many sources, relying too heavily on existing designs can result in work that lacks originality and distinction.
🚩 Not understanding pain points: To design effective solutions, a designer must first understand the problems. Ignoring pain points can lead to designs that don't address core needs.
🚩 Failing to adhere to brand guidelines: Brand guidelines ensure consistency and recognition. Designers who ignore these can produce work that feels disconnected from the broader brand identity.
🚩 Not designing for diverse groups: Diverse groups have diverse needs. Designers should ensure their solutions are inclusive and cater to a broad audience.
🚩 Overlooking mobile responsiveness: With a significant portion of people accessing content on mobile devices, mobile responsiveness is no longer optional. Designs should work seamlessly across devices.
🚩 Neglecting testing: Testing offers direct feedback on how a design performs in real-world scenarios. Ignoring this can result in designs that don't meet people’s needs.
🚩 Failing to iterate based on feedback: Feedback, whether from people or stakeholders, offers insights into potential improvements. Designers should be open to iterating based on this feedback to refine their solutions.
🚩 Not considering loading times and performance: Performance directly impacts people’s experience. Designs that don't consider loading times or other performance metrics can lead to user frustration.
🚩 Ignoring hierarchy and layout principles: Hierarchy and layout guide people through a design. Poor choices in these areas can confuse people and reduce usability.
🚩 Not understanding color theory: Color can evoke emotions, guide attention, and convey information. A lack of understanding of color theory can lead to designs that miscommunicate or are aesthetically jarring.
🚩 Poor typography choices: Typography impacts readability and aesthetics. Poor choices can reduce comprehension and detract from a design's overall effectiveness.
🚩 Overusing design elements: Overuse of any design element, whether it's a particular color, font, or graphic, can make a design feel cluttered and reduce its impact.
🚩 Inefficient workflow: An efficient workflow ensures timely deliveries and reduces rework. Inefficiencies can lead to missed deadlines and increased costs.
🚩 Missing deadlines regularly: Regularly missing deadlines can erode trust with stakeholders and team members and can have business implications.
🚩 Not valuing client input: While designers bring expertise to the table, clients have valuable insights into their business and audience. Ignoring client input can lead to misaligned designs.
🚩 Avoiding peer reviews: Peer reviews offer a fresh perspective and can catch issues before they become larger problems. Avoiding these can reduce the quality of the final design.
🚩 Not seeking mentorship or guidance: Mentorship offers growth opportunities and insights that can be hard to gain in isolation. Not seeking this out can slow a designer's development.
🚩 Jumping to design without proper research: Research lays the foundation for informed design decisions. Jumping to design without it can result in solutions that don't effectively address the problem at hand.
🚩 Lack of versatility in design styles: While having a signature style can be valuable, versatility ensures a designer can meet a broad range of project needs.
🚩 Avoiding new design tools and technologies: New tools and technologies can improve efficiency, collaboration, and the final design output. Avoiding these can hinder a designer's effectiveness.
🚩 Not understanding the medium/platform: Different mediums, whether it's print, web, or mobile apps, have different constraints and opportunities. Designers should ensure they understand these to create effective solutions.
🚩 Inability to handle constructive criticism: Constructive criticism is an opportunity for growth. Designers who can't handle it might miss out on valuable insights and development opportunities.
🚩 Not setting clear expectations with clients: Clear expectations ensure alignment and reduce the potential for misunderstandings later in the project.
🚩 Lack of focus on journeys and flows: Journeys and flows help ensure a design meets people’s needs at every step. Ignoring these can result in disjointed or ineffective experiences.
🚩 Ignoring scalability in designs: Designs should be scalable, whether it's accommodating more content, users, or features. Not considering scalability can result in designs that don't adapt well over time.
🚩 Overemphasis on personal design preferences: While personal style can influence a designer's work, decisions should be based on the project's objectives, not personal preferences.
🚩 Not considering different user capabilities: People have different capabilities, whether it's physical, cognitive, or technical. Designs should be inclusive and cater to a broad range of abilities.
🚩 Failing to create inclusive designs: Inclusive designs ensure a broad range of people, regardless of background or ability, can use and enjoy a product.
🚩 Ignoring design systems and patterns: Design systems and patterns ensure consistency and can speed up the design process. Ignoring these can result in reinventing the wheel and producing inconsistent designs.
🚩 Avoiding collaboration with developers: Collaboration between designers and developers ensures designs are technically feasible and can be implemented as envisioned.
🚩 Not understanding the business goals: While design plays a crucial role in people’s experience, it should also align with broader business objectives.
🚩 Designing without constraints: Constraints, whether they're budgetary, technical, or time-related, shape design decisions. Ignoring these can lead to designs that are unrealistic or fail to meet project objectives.
🚩 Designing without context: Understanding when, where, and how people interact with a design is crucial. Designing without this context can result in solutions that don't fit real-world usage.
🚩 Overlooking touchpoints in user journeys: Every interaction a person has with a design matters. Missing or not optimizing these touchpoints can lead to disjointed experiences.
🚩 Failing to maintain design consistency: Consistency reduces the learning curve for people. Inconsistent designs can confuse and frustrate them.
🚩 Not valuing iterative design processes: Design often benefits from iteration, refining based on feedback and testing. Avoiding this process can lead to missed opportunities for improvement.
🚩 Avoiding feedback loops: Regularly checking in with users, stakeholders, and team members ensures a design remains on track and meets its objectives.
🚩 Not considering ROI in design decisions: Design decisions should consider the potential return on investment, ensuring they add value to the business.
🚩 Designing without user context: Without understanding the user's context, designers might miss key elements that could enhance the user experience.
🚩 Overloading designs with unnecessary features: Adding too many features can complicate the user experience. It's essential to focus on what truly adds value.
🚩 Not setting measurable design goals: Without clear, measurable goals, it's challenging to gauge a design's success or areas for improvement.
🚩 Designing without user context: Context helps designers understand how users will interact with a product, ensuring it meets their needs and expectations.
🚩 Overlooking error states and edge cases: Users will inevitably encounter errors. Designing for these scenarios ensures they can recover gracefully and continue their journey.
🚩 Ignoring the global audience and localization: With the internet, products often have a global audience. Ignoring localization can alienate users and reduce a design's effectiveness.
🚩 Not valuing simplicity in designs: Simplifying designs can enhance user experience by reducing cognitive load and making interactions more straightforward.
🚩 Failing to advocate for design within the organization: Design plays a crucial role in product and business success. Designers should advocate for its importance at all levels of an organization.
🚩 Not keeping backups and version histories: Design is an iterative process. Not keeping backups can result in lost work or challenges in revisiting previous versions.
🚩 Ignoring the importance of feedback channels: Feedback channels, whether it's user surveys, analytics, or direct feedback, provide valuable insights into a design's effectiveness.
🚩 Not understanding the technical feasibility: Collaborating with developers ensures designs are technically feasible and can be implemented as envisioned.
🚩 Avoiding personal reflection and self-improvement: Continuous self-reflection and seeking growth opportunities ensure a designer stays at the top of their game.
🚩 Not prioritizing user security and privacy: With increasing concerns about data privacy, designers should prioritize user security in their designs.
🚩 Avoiding holistic design thinking: Design thinking considers the entire problem, from user needs to business objectives. Avoiding this holistic approach can result in designs that miss the mark.
🚩 Not understanding content strategy: Content and design go hand in hand. Not understanding content strategy can lead to designs that don't effectively convey the message.
🚩 Avoiding mentorship opportunities: Both being a mentor and seeking mentorship can offer growth opportunities and new perspectives.
🚩 Not setting boundaries with clients: Without clear boundaries, designers can face scope creep, unrealistic expectations, or challenges in maintaining work-life balance.
🚩 Not understanding marketing and sales goals: Design plays a role in marketing and sales. Understanding these goals ensures designs align with broader business objectives.
🚩 Ignoring ethical considerations in design: From dark patterns to inclusivity, designers have an ethical responsibility in their work.
🚩 Avoiding collaboration with other departments: Cross-departmental collaboration can offer new perspectives and insights, enhancing the final design.
🚩 Not considering the lifecycle of a design: Designs should consider the entire lifecycle, from introduction to retirement, ensuring they remain effective throughout.
🚩 Not valuing user onboarding: Effective onboarding can make or break a user's experience with a product. It's essential for user retention and satisfaction.
🚩 Avoiding design challenges or competitions: Challenges and competitions can offer growth opportunities and expose designers to new ideas and techniques.
🚩 Not advocating for user needs: Designers should be the voice of the user, advocating for their needs and ensuring they're met in the final design.
🚩 Avoiding networking opportunities: Networking can offer new opportunities, insights, and collaborations that can enhance a designer's work and career.
🚩 Not considering design's impact on operations: Design decisions can impact operations, from customer support to production. Designers should consider these implications.
🚩 Over-relying on one design tool or method: Versatility in tools and methods ensures designers can choose the best approach for each project.
🚩 Not considering design accessibility from the start: Accessibility should be a consideration from the start, not an afterthought.
🚩 Not understanding the product's backend: Understanding the technical backend can ensure designs are implementable and align with technical constraints.
🚩 Not seeking out user stories: User stories offer insights into real-world usage, ensuring designs meet actual user needs.
🚩 Avoiding collaboration with UX researchers: UX research can offer data-driven insights that can enhance a design's effectiveness.
🚩 Not setting clear KPIs for design projects: Without clear KPIs, it's challenging to measure a design's success.
🚩 Avoiding stakeholder buy-in: Ensuring stakeholder buy-in ensures smooth project progress and alignment with business objectives.
🚩 Not understanding the competitive landscape: Understanding competitors can offer insights and ensure designs offer unique value.
🚩 Avoiding design documentation: Documentation ensures designs can be consistently implemented and understood by all team members.
🚩 Not understanding project budgets: Budgets can constrain designs. Understanding these ensures designs are feasible and align with resources.
🚩 Not prioritizing mobile-first design: With increasing mobile usage, mobile-first design ensures a broad range of users can effectively interact with a design.
🚩 Not understanding the sales funnel: The sales funnel offers insights into user decision-making. Designs should support users at each stage.
🚩 Not seeking user validations: Regularly validating designs with users ensures they remain on track and meet user needs.
🚩 Avoiding design retrospectives: Retrospectives offer insights into what went well and areas for improvement, ensuring continuous growth.
🚩 Not considering the emotional impact of designs: Designs evoke emotions. Understanding and leveraging this can enhance user experience.
🚩 Overly Academic in explaining design rationale: While a deep understanding and articulation of design principles is commendable, it's crucial for a designer to communicate their ideas in a manner that's accessible to all stakeholders. Overly academic language can create barriers, leading to misunderstandings or alienating those who might not be familiar with niche design terminologies. It's essential for designers to strike a balance, ensuring clarity and inclusivity in their communications.
🚩 Not considering the long-term impact of design decisions: Design decisions have long-term implications. Considering these ensures designs remain effective over time.
🚩 Avoiding personal design projects: Personal projects offer growth opportunities, a chance to experiment, and can rekindle a designer's passion.
Identifying the marks of an ineffective designer is not about casting blame or discouraging emerging talents. Instead, it's about understanding potential pitfalls in the design journey and striving for continuous improvement. Every designer, regardless of their experience, faces challenges and has areas for growth. The key lies in self-awareness, the willingness to adapt, and the drive to stay updated in an ever-evolving industry. By recognizing these red flags, we can better mentor the next generation of designers, foster collaborative environments, and ultimately push the boundaries of what design can achieve. After all, in the world of design, there's always room for growth, innovation, and the relentless pursuit of excellence.
A special invitation from Michael…
In the spirit of craftsmanship that has always driven our work, I'm excited to share a unique opportunity to be part of a narrative that redefined the digital era. To honor the contributions of our community, I am offering a 20% discount which is good forever for those who join as annual members in the next chapter of this adventure: a book that captures the essence of our design breakthroughs.
Founding members will be acknowledged on the book's donors page in addition to their year membership. Your support is pivotal in bringing this story to print—a story that intertwines technology, design, and the human experience in ways that have forever altered how we interact with the digital world.
Your engagement as either an annual member or a founding member will not only help preserve the rich history of design that we have crafted together but will also continue to inspire future generations of creators and innovators.
I look forward to rekindling the magic that we created and sharing it with the world through your eyes and stories.
Join the conversation on Twitter / X - @darius